Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CD Odyssey Disc 594: Judas Priest

This next album will be my third consecutive double album review, following on an Anthology of the Supremes and the Beatles white album.  I generally find double albums too bloated, and three in a row has been a slog. I hope my next record is one of those seventies ‘originally on vinyl’ numbers that is a cool 35-40 minutes.

Disc 594 is….Nostradamus
Artist: Judas Priest

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? He is Nostradamus! The planetary alignments themselves reveal their secrets to him.  It’s all very serious.

How I Came To Know It: I haven’t followed Judas Priest past the eighties, so I missed all of their albums between “Ram it Down” in 1988 and “Nostradamus” twenty years later.  I bought this one because I was going to see them in concert on this tour, and wanted to know the songs and so increase my enjoyment of the show. Incidentally, the show was great – Judas Priest can still rock it out, and they played a nice mix of hits, obscure stuff and songs off this album.

How It Stacks Up:  I have twelve Judas Priest albums and after I’m done this entry, will have reviewed all but one of them.  I therefore speak from a position of experience when I say that “Nostradamus” is the least of the twelve.  Ah well, something had to be last.

Rating:  2 stars

“Nostradamus” answers the important question – what do you do after you’ve already had decades of success, sold tens of millions of records and have become one of the all-time most influential artists of your genre? Whatever you feel like doing.

In Judas Priest’s case, they decided to release a concept album about the life of a 16th century apothecary who has become one of the most famous prophets or seers in western tradition.  Of course, his predictive verses left much to interpretation, but it is just creepy enough to draw you in, and make you believe something was going on that was beyond our mortal ken.  That’s certainly how I reacted when as a young boy I first heard of him., Fanciful documentaries would always have me riveted to the TV throughout my childhood.  In short, Nostradamus was cool and mysterious, and I can fully understand why Judas Priest decided to dedicate an entire concept album to his life and visions.

The music is very symphonic – and feels like it would be more at home as a rock opera than as a metal album. I could see this put on as a stage production (I suppose counting the concert I saw of this tour in 2008, I partly did).

The whole of it feels a lot like overwrought post-power metal, and the song construction reminded me heavily of Finnish band “Nightwish” except that “Nightwish” manages to pull it off a bit better.

The songs are fairly uninteresting in construction, soaring from verse to verse, and the band seems more interested in telling a cohesive story than delivering moments of magic through the music itself.

This is understandable given the topic is so much fun. The band sets up Nostradamus as a seer and then runs through his nightmarish visions of the four horsemen descending on our world.  It is grim stuff, but they manage to make it uplifting at the end with hopeful songs at the end like “New Beginnings.”

The more theatrical numbers owe a lot to Alice Cooper’s later career, particularly songs like “Death” where Halford embodies the character of the song’s titular character. Good, but I again found myself preferring the way Alice delivers a song like that.  Halford’s strength has always been his soaring vocals, and although he fully commits, he’ll never be Cooper while playing a character, just as Cooper will never blow speakers with his vocal power like Halford can.

Of course in 2008 Halford’s voice is not the force of nature it once was, but he holds his own and can still carry a tune better than most.  Downing and Tipton’s guitars are still crisp, although the actual solo work they do isn’t terribly interesting. The band is content to relax into their subject matter and let it speak for itself.

Like many concept albums, there are a lot of little connector songs of one or two minutes setting or re-establishing mood, as well as longer seven or eight minute numbers developing the bigger concepts.  Generally, the record does a good job of mixing in all of its melodic concepts.  “Nostradamus” may not break a lot of new ground but it is professionally put together, and is clearly a labour of love.  That’s worth something to me, but sadly not more than two stars on this occasion.

Best tracks: Prophecy, Pestilence and Plague, Conquest, Nostradamus,

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